X-COPS, COPS, and Specters of America

Curator's Note

“X-COPS” was originally meant to air without the “X-Files” opening tag. Viewers not yet familiar with Fox Mulder and Dana Scully would have been treated to an episode of COPS that veered wildly from the “reality” of crime the show claims to capture. Rather than vignettes of the destitute hassled and harassed by the police, viewers were entertained with the narrative of a man possessed with exposing the truth, a woman exasperated by its central impossibility, and the anxieties that exist within the people they encounter on their quest. Even with the standard opening tag, the episode still feels like an episode of COPS. Shot on tape instead of the usual film stock, the production crew featured were played by actual members of COPS' production crew. The person holding the camera during the episode often shot footage for COPS. Actual members of the Long Beach police force were brought in for certain sequences, which often took only one take to complete. Outside of Mulder, Scully, and the intangibly tangible “Monster of the Week,” one could easily mistake “X-COPS” for a COPS production. “X-COPS” though reaches beyond mere parody of reality TV conventions. Touched upon by sci-fi novelist and X-Files super fan Sarah Stegall in her review of the episode, the same audience that would watch an episode of COPS (snippets of the police disparaging the marginalized) is the same audience whose sensibilities are protected by the conspiracies that Mulder & Scully seek to expose. Within context of the people who watched the Rodney King tapes back in 1991 and came in defense of the LAPD, not wishing to acknowledge evidence of a racialized society (a sentiment still persisting through Americans who find themselves opposed to #blacklivesmatter), X-Files served as a reminder that the "American dream" itself is a conspiracy with evidence against it waiting to be discovered. It is of no surprise that the series ultimately ended 8 months after September 11th, and is returning at a time when faith in the American system is yet again unraveling.

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